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Reviews 79 van with a stuffed grizzly in the back, and hook up with the SOARS, Singles on the American Roads, who trail along in their assorted mobile homes to listen to Reg’s nightly continuation of his father’s story. All of this must Mean Something: a black man and a white man travel east in the Establishment to find the Old West, SOARing across the range of frontier history. Meschery seems to have a check list of Frontier Facts—a guide, if you will—to refer to, but a reader unfamiliar with Mormon racial theories, the history of English, German, and black settlements in Kansas, and the final tragic scenario at Pine Ridge will have some difficulty piecing together the stories between the facts and keeping past and present separate. There are some funny scenes and others that are merely puzzling, gentlemanly and otherwise, and Reg’s guide to his father’s frontier is entertaining if highly unlikely, but the trip that goes on page after page is hardly worth the effort. DIANE DUFVA QUANTIC Wichita State University Skywater. By Melinda Worth Popham. (Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 1990. 206 pages, $17.95.) For a good share of its pages, this novel places the reader in the conscious­ ness of a coyote. A part of its challenge is to entice the reader to view the world from the perspective of this animal (the Navaho word for coyote is “God’s dog” ). From that viewpoint, most of us two-leggeds are an unpleasant or downright disgusting breed. Brand X, the coyote whose fate we follow most intently, exemplifies the heroic qualities of his kind as he journeys to find a mythical Skywater, a place where water will be clean and plentiful. His search from the Sonoran Desert is begun only after the water supply he and other coyotes have depended upon has been poisoned from the tailings of abandoned copper mines. When he finds his large expanse of water, it is salt water. So he returns to his desert land. The narrative perspective and theme may remind the reader of Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “Hook” or, more recently, Jack Schaefer’s An American Bestiary. Whether or not Popham had Clark or Schaefer in mind, she has studied the coyote with some care and acknowledges not only her on-the-spot training, but previous work by others, J. Frank Dobie among them, who have written books detailing the wrongs that have been done to the coyote. Popham’s task was to render her research into effective fiction. In the most traditional sense, she has written “a novel with a purpose,” the purpose being to change attitudes and behavior toward the coyote and, by extension, the wilderness that is left to us. She displaces her anger at human ignorance and arrogance by staying close to the coyotes, observing the plight of Brand X and his circle. She also keeps tugging at her readers in the way a poet might, for almost every chapter begins with an epigraph—serving to remind readers that 80 Western American Literature they are reading fiction, inviting them to think of other works of the imagina­ tion. In a real sense, Popham is playing the feeling and sensitive person against the unfeeling and insensitive. The four chapters without epigraphs celebrate the sensitivity of the old couple who for almost forty years have found the coyotes good neighbors. Albert and Hallie Ryder long ago set themselves apart from the norms of twentieth-century life and have made a quiet life for themselves on the Sonoran Desert. Their devotion to each other and their appreciation for their natural world complement the coyotes’ care for each other and ability to live with the land. Indeed, the coyotes’ crisis over the water supply becomes a crisis for the Ryders. If Ray Draper, the coyote trapper, is the essence of the unfeeling, the Ryders show some of our species as keenly sensitive. In the epigraphless chap­ ters, Popham gives us four letters by Hallie, who in her grief over the coyotes prepares for her own death, which she knows is imminent. Does Popham skirt the sentimental? Well, yes. Probably the poetry of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 79-80
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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